On Friday at 06:00 the summer sun was already well above the horizon as I gunned the big Suzuki through the suburbs and onto the N3 south. It was perfect biking weather, windless and warm, with no rain forecast for the weekend. I had planned a 1200km day in the saddle and I had a rendezvous in Kokstad at 13:00 so there was no time to dawdle. Let’s get it on!
Earlier in the week I collected the V-Strom from the new Suzuki Auto headquarters in Frankenwald. Suzuki cars, marine engines and motorcycles are selling up a storm in SA and the new premises are twice the size of the previous HQ. There were three different coloured XT demo bikes parked in a row: Yellow, Black, and Glass Blaze Orange. The first two were handsome machines but the third was simply spectacular. You have to see the orange and white XT in the flesh to appreciate just how gorgeous the paint is. As I stood dribbling over the bike I had a flashback and realised that the lines of the XT and especially the beaklike front mudguard bore an uncanny resemblance to the 1988 Suzuki DR750S BIG which was based on the DR-Z racer ridden by Gaston Rahier in the Dakar and Pharaoh Rallies. The striking similarities between the BIG and the XT portray a proud legacy and suggest that Suzuki is serious about competing in the hotly contested >1000cc dual purpose adventure motorcycle segment. Spoked tubeless wheels – 19” front and 17” rear, long travel suspension, 160mm ground clearance, electronic engine management modes, multiple ABS and traction control settings, and a raunchy 1037cc liquid cooled, 90° V Twin, DOHC engine come together in an extremely photogenic and capable whole which is way greater than the sum of its parts. The XT is a serious contender and, as the Suzuki marketing blurb says, this is the bike that will empower you to “Go beyond your boundaries and expand your horizon.” I intended to do exactly that.
The N3 was busy and the fast lane was infested with twerps bumbling along at 123km/h so it was an easy decision to leave the freeway on the far side of Heidelberg and follow the rural roads to Balfour and Grootvlei. The road in the vicinity of the Grootvlei power station used to be a diabolical potholed death trap but these days it’s in reasonable condition because 26 wheel, 50 ton, interlink behemoths use the road to carry coal to the power station and the road is regularly maintained. South of the silos at Leeuspruit the R51 runs parallel to the N3. I set cruise control at maximum, 160km/h, and relaxed in the saddle as the XT bombed along with the mill spinning at an effortless 6000rpm. Paradoxically back roads are much faster than N routes because you don’t have to worry about cops and their revenue generating cameras. In Villiers I thought for a brief moment about hauling down the N3 but sanity prevailed. As I crossed the Vaal River I hooked left and then right onto the R103 and rode at speed past Cornelia and thence to Warden.
My objective for the weekend was to ride a lap around Lesotho. Warden was the start and end point of that lap and I was looking forward to riding mountainous terrain for the rest of the weekend. I stopped in Harrismith for breakfast and fuel. The XT proved to be remarkably fuel efficient. Home to Harrismith was 295km and the 20 litre tank took 18.2 litres yielding frugal consumption figures of 16.2km/l. It was just before 09:00 when I left Harrismith and I would have to be quick if I wanted to make Kokstad, approximately 450km distant, by 13:00. Past Sterkfontein Dam I rode at 180km/h, stopped at the summit of Oliviershoek Pass for photos, belted down the pass and made excellent time to Bergville, Winterton and Estcourt with the mighty ramparts of the Drakensberg looming large on the western horizon. On the N3 from Estcourt to Mooi River I had to decide whether to stay on the freeway or to ride the R103 through Rosetta, Nottingham Road and Lions River to Howick. On any other day I would have chosen the R103 for its scenery and challenging back roads riding but it would have taken 30 minutes longer than the N3. Between Mooi River and Howick I saw three manned speed traps and as many static cameras and half a dozen marked patrol cars. This was zero tolerance country. I cruised the N3 like a law abiding citizen and with some relief left the freeway south of Howick and followed the R617 southeast into the foothills of the Drakensberg.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
WHAT NEXT FOR NORTON AND BSA?
Following on from the success of the Triumph revival, a lot of noise was made about the arrival of Norton back on the motorcycling scene in 2008. The new owner of the brand, Stuart Garner, got everyone excited when he announced that he would be making not only a new Norton Commando motorcycle but would be returning to the Isle of Man TT with a new superbike, powered by an Aprilia V4 motor.
SO, WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO THE BRITISH MOTORCYCLE INDUSTRY?
It’s a story that no-one is unfamiliar with; how the British motorcycle industry withered and died through the 1960s and into the ‘70s. What was once a thriving industry that sold state-of-the-art motorcycles from world-famous manufacturers, by the hundreds of thousands, was reduced to first a handful and then just one manufacturer, producing an outdated design in the face of modern and reliable machines from Japan.
In the world of motorcycling, it is rare, if not unique, for a manufacturer to have two bites of the cake - both with a cherry on top - with two iterations of one particular model, especially when separated by a couple of decades.
TALES FROM THE HOOD
SA & MOTORCYCLE COMMUTING
NORIYUKI HAGA SULTAN OF Slide
Rare in-depth interview with Nori-chan himself explains how the Sultan of Slide rode the bike - and the crucial differences between Superbike and 500 GP
THE GXCC’S PUSH THE SEASON TO THE LIMIT IN 2020
THE GREATEST Comeback?
The greatest British bike racer? Surtees? Sheene? Both have good claims to the title but, in reality, there can be only one king. This is the story of the race that only served to enhance an already glittering reputation.
Great Bikes? The Ariel Square Four
Elsewhere you will have read about the Ariel motorcycle company and here I intend to talk more about their most famous design, the incredible Square Four.
GONE BUT Part 5 ARIEL NOT FORGOTTEN
Turner’s Square Four remained in production from 1931 to 1959
Engineering DEAD-ENDS Part 2: Hub-Centre Steering
Motorcycle development never stands still, although maybe recently, it would be more accurate to say that motorcycle electronics development doesn’t stand still; it is very little in the physical architecture of a motorcycle that is likely to change. But it wasn’t always so and one innovation that was tried not only on road bikes but also 500cc Grand Prix bikes was hub-center steering.
THE SUZUKI HAYABUSA
Suzuki said the first Hayabusa invented a new category called Ultimate Sport. We said, “Yeah, right,”…until we rode it.
WITH CLASSIC 4X4 DESIGN CUES AND AN OLD-SCHOOL 4X4 DRIVELINE IN A PINT-SIZE PACKAGE, IT’S LIKE DRIVING THE JEEP WRANGLER’S LITTLE BROTHER. BUT IT’S NOT FOR SALE HERE.
MASTER BARTON BOEHM'S PATH TO PEACE
THERE’S MORE TO MARTIAL ARTS THAN KICKS AND STRIKES.
Going under the sword with the 2020 Suzuki Katana
DESIGN MACHT MUT(H)
How a German designer came to forge Suzuki’s sharpest sword
One Hell of A Week Hellas Rally Raid, Greece
I started riding motorcycles some six years ago in Peru, and it wasn’t because I was always a die-hard moto fan or knew anything about bikes.
Toyota, Suzuki Partnering In Self-driving Car Technology
Japan’s top automaker, Toyota, and smaller rival Suzuki are partnering in the development of self-driving car technology, as manufacturers around the world grapple with innovations in the industry.
Toyota Urban Cruiser
Toyota enters the hotly contested compact SUV segment with the Urban Cruiser, the rebadged version of the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza
Seven years after the launch of Suzuki’s Vintage Parts Programme, we ride two unique project bikes to find out if they go as well as they look: and all at the wonderful Sywell Pistons and Props event!
It’s quick, light and gorgeous. It’s a dirt bike, after all. Or is it?